Some people take photographs of a stuffed animal or cutout doll when they travel—here’s Flat Stanley in Paris, here’s Flat Stanley in Argentina. I take photos of myself standing on my head.
It started as a lark. About three years ago, when I learned to stand-up paddleboard, the Jamaican watersports guys were amusing themselves by doing headstands on their boards. It planted a seed. Six months after that, I was paddling off a sailboat in Indonesia and thought I’d give it a shot—if I fell over, I’d just roll into the water, which wouldn’t hurt. (Many years of yoga have made me very comfortable standing on my head.) A companion caught a photo and suggested I put it on Facebook—another lark—and I was deluged with likes and comments.
Doing a headstand on a power boat in Antiqua.
It seemed only natural to repeat the trick on a powerboat in Antigua a few months later. Bonus: Upside down is an extremely flattering way to be photographed in a bikini—decades of gravity, reversed!
Headstand in Brazil.
Headstand in chaps and boots.
Cold weather pose in Canada.
And so my Internet meme of one began. (Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to spawn a new trend such as planking or whaling.) After a few more Facebook photos, my social media friends started asking for headstands as soon as they saw pictures of new destination on my feed. I’m a travel writer, so I’m regularly invited all over the world, and now as many invitations are to “come stand on your head in our lobby” as to come write an article (though I’m sure the article is still expected too). My upside down image has shown up on the Facebook page of a Brazilian pousada and the Twitter feed of a Tanzanian safari lodge.
Another headstand in Brazil at sunset.
Headstand in Tuscany.
Upside down at Machu Picchu.
More than two years and four dozen headstands later—including in front of Machu Picchu, on a moving train, on a glacier, and at the summit of Kilimanjaro—I’m working harder and harder to come up with new variations. Recently I poked my legs up from the backseat of a Mini Cooper in St. Barth and squeezed myself into a Land Cruiser in Congo. But I can’t stop now. Not just because it’s expected. I want to be that girl with my feet in the clouds and my head firmly on the ground.
Ann Abel has written about 66 countries on six continents and counting. Her work has appeared in Afar, Departures, Robb Report, National Geographic Traveler, Islands, and ForbesLife, and she writes a luxury travel column for Forbes.com.